We have a new ‘justice’ hashtag; the victim is a valedictorian from Hyderabad. (This time, it was only 9 p.m. so new ways of victim-blaming are discovered, like, “She should have dialled 100 rather than calling her sister,”).
Like always, it will lead to some more candle light marches and demands of another death sentence. We all know the famous statistics – In India, a woman is raped every 15 minutes, not including the cases which go unreported. The worst thing is these horrible numbers don’t shock us anymore. Every day, there is news of brutal rape – a 16-year-old girl returning from her tuition raped under a bridge, an 8-year-old raped to take revenge, a woman (who just went underwent a C-section) raped in a hospital, a 9-month-old girl kidnapped, raped and then murdered.
These girls and women were trying to do nothing unexceptional, neither they were expecting any trouble. But for Indian women, being born is in itself a welcome sign for the world to exploit her. All this leads us to wonder: are we surrounded with devils who don’t have humanity in even the last drop in their body?
“We demand justice! Hang them in public!”
But, is that the solution to the rape crisis that we are facing? This problem is deeper than death sentences being able to solve it. Here’s what I believe are reasons of the sexual violence against women in India.
Our beloved India – the superpower in making and the future $5 trillion economy – is still finding it difficult to accept even the basics of gender equality. We still have very high rates of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and domestic violence including marital rape. Unsurprisingly, we are amongst the lowest in the world in terms of women’s health and safety, not forgetting the male-to-female population ratio (because do girls really deserve to be born?).
The need to pay a dowry for a daughter’s marriage makes them a burden on their families. Also, after marriage, their existence in every sense is connected only to their husbands.
The notion that women are less important is deeply rooted in the minds of common people. This proves to be endemic because it leads to male superiority in the sense that women are there to serve men. When all this is shoved down the throats of the entire society, then violence against women will not come as a surprise – a wife’s duty is to serve her husband. Even if he hits her and rapes her every night, she still owes him her loyalty and service. Girls are supposed to stay at home; if they roam outside then they must be inviting trouble for themselves.
So, the first step must be to tell people loud and clear that this is the 21st century and no one owns the women of India. The need is to bring down the idea of gender equality from the unheard articles of the Constitution to homes, schools, workplaces and everyday life because like everything else, change starts at the grass-root level.
Research shows that having women in government can lead to more and better laws that safeguard women’s well-being. India’s population is 48% female. But women hold just 12% seats in national legislature.
The topic of empowerment of women is discussed in closed rooms filled with men. Women leaders are given token departments to handle. Even if they become successful to win the important ones, their capabilities are constantly questioned. Reservation for women in the elections is one of the biggest frauds of our democracy.
The best career for women is still thought to be that of a teacher or a doctor. Our police force is seriously lacking in women personnel and women journalists are still not thought to be capable for reporting on ‘serious news.’
Most of the high posts, whether in government or corporate companies, is filled with men. In short, women are nowhere to be seen. The key to making people accept the first point is to increase the representation of women in every sphere of life. They have been suppressed since centuries, so maybe it’s the right time to give them a hand while they try their hardest to rise.
Let’s start with some basic questions.
“How do young boys and girls grow up to think about sex, about gender, about sexual relationships or even emotional relationships?”
“Have we ever felt comfortable asking our teachers about sexual relations and or rights regarding them?”
The answer is probably no. We Indians generally are not comfortable talking about sexuality, reproductive rights, menstruation or sexual desire – anywhere – whether it is our home or our classroom or the workplace. We don’t even utter such words in public.
These issues are subtly swept under the carpet. The result is a huge load of ignorance and denial. But this particular aspect has a lot of capabilities to change the current scenario.
Some small changes in adolescent education and even earlier in primary school might address the root cause of the problem. But our governments and society outrightly discard this because they hold the notion that sexual education equals to encouraging sex.
But, we need to grow up and address this issue. We need to challenge the idea of being the ‘cool’ and ‘strong’ boy/man. The whole culture of gender norms needs to be balanced, and this can go beyond schools and the home.
Movies, TV shows, sports and music also hold the key to a common man’s mind. Maybe the old politician saying, “Boys will be boys” should be made to sit down and hear a word or two about what it means to be a boy. In the pursuit of teaching girls self-defence, let’s not forget teaching our boys empathy.
Whether it’s the Delhi rape case of 2012 or the recent one in Hyderabad, both cases seem to exhibit a pattern. This is a very critical issue to address- the relationship between predatory sexual violence and urban destitution — an enormous, unsolved challenge in India.
Being exposed to violence right from birth does not promote a sense of the integrity or the delicacy of the human body or respect for laws and moral values. It generates despair, anger, fury, a sense of desperate social rejection. This feeling of being rejected by the society perhaps leads to the breakdown in a sense of shared values and understanding of basic code of conduct.
Although it is no excuse for the violence, maybe the brutalisation we are witnessing is a manifestation of the radical failure of current engagement of different stratas of society. This issue demands an urgent call to action.
The solution can be to pull particular people out of the condition they are in, but it is not as easy as removing poverty. In other words, not happening! So, what else can be done? In my opinion, we can undertake targeted counselling and awareness sessions.
After the Delhi rape case, some very prominent Indian politicians including an HC judge, emphasised the damage done to female dignity rather than the horrific violence, as if vaginal purity were the main casualty. In my opinion, rather than using the real name of the victim, a placeholder name Nirbhaya is used because her feminine dignity has to be preserved. If she had been brutally murdered with an axe, or if she had been burnt alive in her own home, we could have used her name; the invasion of her vagina required a shield of anonymity.
But, her brave parents publicly revealed her name saying that they want to give courage to other women who have survived similar attacks. Her mother said that it is the perpetrators of heinous crimes, not her daughter, who must feel ashamed of themselves.
If there is anything that’s hurting the woman’s dignity, then it is the physical test conducted on the survivors (including the illegal and unscientific two-finger test) which shamelessly attacks the right to privacy and dignity of our women.
Similarly, the culture of victim-blaming is equally disappointing. It is true that changing these attitudes – for instance, the tendency to question a woman’s clothes and conduct, suggesting she ‘invited’ or did not ‘resist’ rape – won’t happen overnight. But, the government can play a role in that change, and it must start now.
There are just too many laws in India and too little justice. The Verma committee formed after the Delhi rape case of 2012 recommended that rather than focusing on introducing new laws, the focus must be on implementation and sensitivity on the ground.
In the Hyderabad case, the police refused to lodge a complaint and did not track her phone saying that she must have ‘eloped with her boyfriend.’ Many times, the police often refuse to register complaints or recommend that families ‘compromise’ cases, leading to survivors often giving up the battle for their justice midway.
Moreover, India has no uniform national standard and protocol for treatment and examination of survivors of sexual assault, or specialised training for police and doctors. The Unnao rape case proved how influential people can control the justice process and opened up the cracks in our system.
If a woman is coming forward against the violence, then it becomes the duty of government and police that she must be provided with the protection (along with the witnesses) and counselling. Delayed trials, poor investigation, a low rate of conviction and impunity are some of the other areas which need improvement on the war-footing.
We all are demanding “death to those devils” but this would just be a knee-jerk response to public outcry. An easy way out for the lawmakers and administration to show that they do care. But let’s dive deeper and look at the numbers.
Around 371 Indians are on death row but only 4 actually were given the death sentence (none was convicted for a rape). So, this sentence is extremely unusual, particularly for rape cases, which, more often than not, go unpunished. It is just an opportunistic token of societal concern which will bury rather than solve the issue.
What we need is rational and vigorous social and legal reform, instead of getting vengeance and emotionally responding to such situations. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the threat of execution works as a special deterrent. Rather, studies revealed that it has led to more cruelty and a spike in murder victims.
Another aspect is that almost 90% rapes are committed by people known to the victim, a staggering number of rapists are family members. So, if death penalties would be awarded, then it is a surety that there will be even more decline in the number of cases reported (which is already a fraction of the real number).
We are a country where rapes happen everywhere – inside homes, schools, buses, parks and even police stations. It happens in towns and cities, and even in the bedrooms. So, for a problem so widespread, band-aid solutions like death sentences are not an answer.
Such crimes demand our protests but we also need to attack the regular violence against women, the bias they face everywhere. Let’s deal with the very fabric of our society which makes the man so violent.
And if we are talking, then let’s also agree that this cruel problem is not limited to women. Let’s question ourselves that why is our own safety not on the top of the list which we considered before voting for a representative or a party? Let’s talk about rapes in length and breadth and let’s keep talking even when it’s not on the front page of the newspaper.